Interesting Thought: Healthy Drive
This past week, The Guardian published a thorough article examining the rise of fitness on social media and the accompanying rise in unhealthy exercise behaviors. In short, lots of people are becoming obsessed with how they look and their workout numbers so that they can post and compare on social media. As a result, they are engaging in reckless fitness routines and becoming anxious and depressed when they fail to live up to whatever bar the internet has set for them. Another way to look at it is that people are becoming passionate about fitness not because they love the feeling of exercise but because they love the feeling of the external validation that comes from having exercised or sculpted a certain body type.
Though The Guardian story focuses on fitness, the same trap applies to just about anything—from writing, to getting promoted at work, to relationships. It's never been easier to seek and recieve external validation for the activities in one's life, and it's never been easier to compare the activities in one's life to the those in the lives of others.
The problem is that when you put too great an emphasis on external validation and comparison, you set yourself up for failure and ill health. That's because at some point or another the validation that you crave won't be there. When this inevitably occurs, your liable to push yourself to extremes to try to regain it, and become anxious and depressed in the process. Put differently, when you measure your self-worth based on the opinion of others, you create a very fragile self.
It's not that you shouldn't be at all motivated by external recognition, rewards, or benchmarks. I want to run a marathon in under three hours; I check the number of social media followers I have a few times a week; and when I write a magazine or web story I want it to get a lot of positive attention. The thing is, I make sure all of these external motivators remain minority ones. My main motivation for running is that I love running and the process of getting better. My main motivation for using social media is that I come across lots of interesting ideas and people that I otherwise wouldn't. My main motivation for writing is that I relish in the challenge of filling a blank page and believe my work may be of benefit, even if only in a small way, to readers. It's completely human (and OK) to have a portion of your drive come from external sources, but the majority of your drive should come from within.
Unfortunately, it's a lot easier to say that you'll keep the majority of your drive channeled from within than to actually live it. This is especially true if you start to perform well in whatever it is you are doing; when you perform well, you tend to get recognized, and, without your even noticing, a love for your activity can subtly shift to a love for being recognized. Your best bet to prevent this shift from occurring is a simple one: be aware that it can happen and constantly check in with yourself about the source of your drive. (Same goes for those you manage, teach, or coach.) If you find the scale is shifting too much in the direction of external validation, that probably means it's a good time to examine what you do and how you do it.
Most of the time, simply pausing for this sort of mindful reflection is enough to course correct. However, if you can't reclaim drive that comes predominantly from within, that's a pretty good sign that it might be time to consider moving onto something new. It's worth repeating: if your self-worth (or how you value your work, relationships, etc.) is tied up in the opinion of others, you are sitting with a very fragile self and one that is set up for recurring disappointment.
You've got to do you because you enjoy doing you, not because you want the validation of others. It's true that society is increasingly nudging us in the direction of the latter, which makes it all the more important to be deliberate about the former.
Coaching Corner: Chase Consistency, Not Perfection.
We all want the answer, the secret that will allow us to get over the next hump and reach whatever elusive success we are chasing. That feeling that there must be an "answer," something that we just haven’t yet found, is something that seldom fades. The assumption is often that if there is not an answer, then must face the harsh reality that we might just be up against our limit, be it in sport or life. And yet, it's the very search for a singular answer itself that is often what's holding us back from reaching our elusive potential.
In 2003, a young and somewhat unheard of Kenyan runner named Eliud Kipchoge shocked the track world when, over 5000 meters, he took down a young Ethiopian champion named Kenenisa Bekele. Over the next few years, Bekele would exact his revenge, establishing himself as the world record holder over both 5,000m and 10,000m distances, and collecting numerous gold medals at both distances in the subsequent World Championships and Olympic games. Kipchoge held his own but never achieved the superstardom that his Ethiopian counterpart did.
But as they both turned to the marathon in 2013-14, the tides changed. Bekele has run well in marathons, taking a 2:03:03 marathon victory at the 2016 race in Berlin, but in his last eight marathons, he has dropped out more times than he has won. In that time period Kipchoge, on the other hand, has established himself as the best marathoner of all time.
In a fascinating article published on Letsrun looking into Bekele’s struggle over the marathon distance, one paragraph caught my eye:
“Analyzing one’s training after a bad race is not uncommon; in fact, it would be irresponsible not to. But Bekele is now eight races into his marathon career, and the inconsistency in his training is reflected by the inconsistency of his results. He runs different courses and workouts to prepare for each race and, unlike Kipchoge, who follows Sang and Sang alone, Bekele has taken advisement from a number of people, including Hermens, the physiologist Yannis Pitsiladis, and coaches Renato Canova and Mersha Asrat. Each has played a role in his successes, but when that many people have input into your training, it is difficult to find consistency year after year.”
Bekele is searching for an "answer." He’s acting as if there is a single answer in his training that is preventing him from reaching the same heights in the marathon that he did on the track. He’s continually looking externally, believing that some other coach has the answer, which prevents his greatest asset, consistency in work and race results. Bekele is just one example of many who fall into this trap. Alan Webb is a fantastic friend and one of the best guys on the planet, but when he began to struggle in his career, he followed a similar path, trying three to four coaches in a short time frame and striking out across all of them.
That doesn’t mean one shouldn’t ever try to figure out what’s wrong, or even switch coaches. But it does mean that consistency trumps the search for perfection. In most aspects of life, perfection is unattainable, and the simple act of searching sends a clear signal that what we are doing right now is a problem. The simple act of continually searching prevents one from fully embracing and getting the most out of what is currently being done. Kipchoge seems to have accepted this. Bekele, not so much. It's like I tell my athletes: even if the training is perfect, if you don’t buy into it, you will not run fast.
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